Parents organizing citywide against the 'Too Long School Day'

A growing number of parents are speaking out against the Chicago Public Schools proposed extra 90 minute school day, which the mayor and the Chicago Board of Education are acting as though it is a done deal for next year. Meanwhile, CPS officials, headed by "Chief Instructional Officer" Jennifer Cheatham, are trying to force all of the planning for the longer school days through the schools as quickly as possible. But as was evident at the February 22, 2012, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, opposition to school closings and turnarounds is not the only major issue drawing parent and community organizing in Chicago's public schools.

Jonathan Goldman of the Drummond Elementary School Local School Council told the Board that the proposal for the 7.5 hour Longer School Day was undermining the successful programs at his school. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Jonathan Goldman, representing the Drummond Elementary Local School Council, told members of the Chicago Board of Education at Wednesday's meeting, that he has sent a letter to the chief of the schools outlining his concerns about the extended school day, but nobody from CPS has bothered to respond.

"It's time for CPS to engage the parents on this issue," Goldman said. "Instead of one policy to fit every school, we need to look at the specific needs of each school."

Goldman said the parents at his child's school are in favor of a longer day, but 92% are against the currently proposed extra 90 minutes which would cut into extra-curricular activities, burn-out the younger children and disrupt after school tutoring for specific groups of children.

Michelle Bever, a parent at Mt. Greenwood Elementary School on the far southside and a member of parents opposed to the longer school day in the 19th ward, told the board of ed that CPS says it will attend their meeting about the longer day, but then not show up.

"How is it reasonable that a six year old spend the same time as an 18 year old in school," Bever said. "Is that developmentally appropriate?"

Surrounded by parents wearing tee shirts that proclaimed (on the back "6.5 to thrive") Michelle Bever of Mount Greenwood told the Board of Education that a one-size-fits-all approach to the "Longer School Day" was wrong. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The average school time in Illinois is 6.5 hours, but CPS is proposing a full extra hour beyond that, Bever told Substance.

There appears to be a divide-and-conquer approach in the proposed extra 90 minute day. Mayor Emanuel has relied on his "Rent a Preachers" to promote the longer school day in the inner city, while parents in higher performing schools throughout the city oppose the extra 90 minutes. But although the protests against Emanuel's version of the Longer School Day have come mainly from the city's more middle class schools, it's not clear that Emanuel's plan has support even in the inner city.

Bever, from the city's far Southwest Side, said CPS officials had been avoiding allowing all the schools to meet at the same time in the 19th ward, and instead just schedule visits separately at the schools to avoid any unity.

However, some in the rougher sides of town have noted also that there is a safety issue when children are dismissed at a later time of the day and have to walk home.

While parents organize and protest against the on-size-fits-all Longer School Day promulgated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and supported by his massive propaganda machine and Rent A Preachers, the CPS administrative bureaucracy has been pouring out Power Points and other materials to force every school in the 650 school system to adopt the program and draft how it is supposed to work. Above, the cover of the 55-page Power Point on how to do the Longer School Day for students with disabilities. Critics point out that in many cases, certain disabilities will result in a very bad situation when the Board forces every child and every school on the LSD.Stand for Children, the group created by the businesses and their millionaire donors, helped spearhead the push for a longer school day when it helped sponsor SB Bill 7 which was signed into law and gave CPS the ability to lengthen the school day. Director Mary Anderson distributed a flyer at the Board meeting stating that they support the extra 30% time, which apparently amounts to 90 more minutes.

The Stand for Children flyer echoes the Chicago Teachers Union position that it favors not simply a longer day, but a better quality day that includes increased time for art, music and other enrichment classes, as well as a focus on physical education, recess and a longer lunch period.

Of course, one of the big questions is funding. CPS has not pledged to increase funding to ensure more art and music teachers are hired in the schools to make this a reality.

Currently the schools have longer school day committees to work out a plan on how to implement the extra 90 minute school day. However, several observers noted the futility of such committees, where a lot of time is spent meeting and planning and writing up reports, but CPS will do whatever it is they want to do.

No where was this more evident than at the Board of Ed meeting on Wednesday, February 22, 2012, where after two hours of heart-felt testimony imploring the Board members to not vote to close or turnaround their schools the "done deal" was done. And despite a spirited fight by the CTU and teachers, parents and students at school protest actions throughout the city that included a school occupation, a mayoral sit-in and admission of paid protesters to support the closings, the Board members sat passively and then voted what the mayor wanted - to close or turnaround and fire everyone in every proposed school.

One difference this time from years past of implementing the privatization and destruction of public schools, was the robotic nature of the Board make-up. Not one member spoke up or engaged any of the speakers. The president David Vitale looked like the poster child of the non-face corporate entity who by mere presence waves his wand to make the pesky public disappear amidst corporate dollars. Schools chief Jean Claude Brizard did not say one word to the public.

Supposedly the day before, board member and former ISBE board chairman Jesse Ruiz agreed to meet with the community who occupied Piccolo Elementary School to prevent the turnaround of its school in which all the beloved students' teachers and other staff are to be fired as failures and replaced for next year.

Eight months after CPS officials declared that the Board was so cash strapped that it couldn't afford to pay the contractual raises to union workers in the massive school system, CPS has offered grants of $100,000 to schools that go along with Rahm Emanuel's Longer School Day push. The Longer School Day is now officially called the "Full School Day" although critics have pointed out that in Illinois it should really be called the "Longest School Day." Research is showing that if every school in Chicago is forced on the 7.5 hour day, Chicago's elementary schools will be having their children in school longer than any other district in the state — and nearly an hour and a half longer than the mayor's children have to be in school at the University of Chicago Lab School where he sends them.But Ruiz told Fox News after the Board vote to turnaround Picollo and the others that his only regret that they couldn't have closed more failing schools, and save even more children.


February 26, 2012 at 8:38 AM

By: Kimberly Bowsky

Their comments after closing us

Jesse Ruiz's and Dr. Mahalia Hines's comments leave us in no doubt as to what Chicago will be facing in 9 more months: they are willing to use each year to deem more schools failing, allow students' schools to starve, plan sham hearings while redirecting funds to the Board members' monetary interests, and keep closing schools until Chicago public schools are no more. Do the math. 20 per year, 600 or so schools. How long will it take for the turnaround?

They are willing to discount public opinion, ignore economic theory except for the purpose of making money, set each of us upon the other, and refuse to let us teachers use our research, our degrees, our expertise, to work with parents and our children. Then, should we all become charter or a new iteration of what "public school" means, we STILL won't be allowed to practice our craft. Thank you, Substance, for piping the clarion call for all these years.

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